4 reasons why Twin Falls, Idaho should be on your vacation wish list
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The coronavirus pandemic had a seismic impact on the travel industry in 2020, but with ongoing restrictions for international travel to many destinations, a large number of Americans are still looking to stay closer to home. This booming demand has led to long airline hold times, car rental shortages and tons of crowds at popular national parks.
My own family’s travel over the last 18 months has been no exception.
In the twelve months prior to the pandemic, we took trips to Spain, Chile and Bolivia, London, and northern Italy. But since we landed back from our Italian vacation on Dec. 1, 2019, we haven’t set foot out of the United States, instead visiting domestic locales like the mountains of North Carolina, the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland (to utilize the Work from Hyatt program) and Duluth, Minnesota.
However, we just returned from what was our best trip yet since the onset of the pandemic: a week-long stay in Twin Falls, ID.
Here’s why this small town in southern Idaho should be on everyone’s list to visit.
The Snake River
The first (and most visible) reason to consider Twin Falls is the beautiful Snake River and the eponymous canyon situated just north of the city. This river runs over 1,000 miles, starting in western Wyoming before flowing into the Columbia River in southeast Washington (and ultimately reaching the Pacific Ocean). The mere sight of the canyon as you enter the city limits on Highway 93 is mesmerizing — and the local visitor’s center makes for a great first stop, with a perfect view of the Perrine Bridge spanning the canyon.
However, it’s not just the visual beauty of the Snake River Canyon that’s worth a visit; it’s also the array of activities along it.
On our first, full day in town, we ventured 40 minutes downriver to Hagerman, ID — where we met up with Idaho Guide Service for a whitewater rafting trip. The heatwave that gripped the western U.S. in early July meant it was already quite warm by our 11:30 a.m. departure, but the cool waters of the Snake River offered a perfect antidote to the temperature.
The tour saw us cruise through class one, two and three rapids, much to the delight of our six-year-old daughter (note that six is the minimum age for this tour). And after a stop for a picnic lunch — provided by the tour company for an added cost — we had the opportunity to float through the next stretch of rapids, a memorable way to get acquainted with the area.
We found ourselves back at the canyon multiple times during the week, first to take in the beauty of Shoshone Falls (allegedly dubbed the “Niagara of the West” but notably smaller in the summer months) and then for a zip-lining tour with AWOL Adventures in Centennial Park. But it was our last afternoon that offered the best experience, as we booked a combination boat-kayak tour with AWOL to the base of Shoshone Falls.
After a quick ride up to Pillar Falls, our group loaded into kayaks for the two-mile trek to Shoshone. We took in the falls from a completely different vantage point than what’s offered in the park at the top of the canyon — including a quick dip in the water and some cave exploration. And after paddling the two miles back downriver, we had plenty of time to cool off in the natural pools around Pillar Falls.
As Florida residents, we’re partial to spending time in the water during the summer, but the beauty of the Snake River was unlike anything we’d experienced before.
After all those excursions, we naturally built up quite the appetite for some top-notch food. And thankfully, Twin Falls didn’t disappoint.
It’s rare to take a week-long trip and enjoy every, single meal — but that’s exactly what happened during our time in Twin Falls. Starting with takeout from Scooter’s Chillin’ -n-Grillin’ (yes, that’s its name) on our first night all the way through sticking with my daughter’s mandatory “Pizza Friday” tradition from Lucy’s on our last night, the food was simply spectacular.
- Elevation 486: We enjoyed a delicious dinner overlooking the canyon one night (I recommend reservations for the outdoor patio 45 minutes before sunset), and then we went back for a quick happy hour after kayaking. A place like this could get away with mediocre food and service, but we found the entire experience to be top-notch — and we even earned OpenTable points in the process!
- Koto Brewing Company and Miler’s Gate Brewery: We tried these two breweries in downtown Twin Falls on successive nights, and both offered terrific beer paired with outstanding food. I honestly can’t remember one over the other — so you’ll just have to try them both.
- Cloverleaf Creamery: After rafting, we stopped in Buhl, ID on our way back to Twin Falls and enjoyed huckleberry ice cream (huckleberry is Idaho’s state fruit). There’s also a Cloverleaf booth in the 2nd South Market food hall — which is another great option for a variety of cuisine while in town.
Finally, I have to mention Stevo’s Restaurant in Heyburn, ID, roughly 40 minutes outside of Twin Falls. If you decide to use Salt Lake City (SLC) as your gateway to reach Twin Falls — as we did — don’t miss out on a meal here on your way into or out of town. The family-run restaurant serves outstanding potato dishes (made with spuds directly from the owner’s farm) and offers a beautiful outdoor patio.
It was the perfect end to an amazing food journey.
Speaking of spots outside of Twin Falls …
The surrounding area
When we originally planned this trip, we expected to have a ton of downtime. That’s not necessarily a bad thing on vacation, but Twin Falls isn’t a major city, so we didn’t know how much we’d have to do.
Fortunately, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the surrounding area of southern Idaho.
After the rafting excursion, our first major trek outside the city was to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, and it was well worth the $20-per-car entrance fee. We made sure to get there early to take advantage of the cooler weather in the morning (and to avoid potential crowds), giving us unfettered access to the major sights. Even if you walked every, single trail off the short loop road, the preserve is easily done in a day — though pack a picnic, as there weren’t many amenities inside.
(Tip: If you want to explore one or more of the caves, be sure to stop at the visitor’s center upon arrival to pick up a permit — which is free.)
On our way back from Craters, we stopped at the Shoshone Ice Caves, a neat spot that felt more tourist-heavy than anything else we did. Nevertheless, leaving the heat of the afternoon for below-freezing temperatures in a natural environment was very cool — pun intended.
There are many other potential activities within a two-hour drive of Twin Falls that we didn’t get a chance to explore — including multiple hot springs (the thought of relaxing in hot water in 100-plus-degree temperatures wasn’t appealing in the slightest) as well as fly fishing and the Sawtooth National Forest. We’re even considering another visit this winter to potentially ski at Sun Valley.
Finally, we were blown away at just how affordable our trip was. We’ve seen many reports of hiked prices and exorbitant fees from vacation rental sites this summer — but our very comfortable Airbnb was just $77 per night before a 10% discount for a weekly stay. And this was far from an outlier, as many properties fall into the same general price range.
Our kayak tour was $75 per person and lasted nearly four hours, while our whitewater rafting trip covered the same amount of time and was $80 for adults and $72 for our daughter — including a terrific, riverside lunch. The ice caves tour lasted nearly an hour and was just $12 for adults and $8 for kids.
We even stopped in to paint some ceramics at Hands On in the heat of the day one afternoon, and it cost us just $45 for three pieces of pottery plus all the supplies we needed (try to visit on a Wednesday as we did for discounted studio fees).
We also found the restaurants to be very affordable. Even our “splurge” meal at Elevation 486 — which included a bottle of wine, appetizer, two entrees and a generous tip — was just over $125.
How to get to Twin Falls
Twin Falls is situated in southern Idaho — and it does have a commercial airport: Magic Valley Regional Airport (TWF). Delta offers thrice-daily service from Salt Lake City (SLC), while United flies once a day from its Denver (DEN) hub. However, once you factor in layovers and limited flight options, you may have an easier time with one of the following options:
- Fly into Boise (BOI) and then drive the roughly two hours to Twin Falls.
- Fly into Salt Lake City (SLC) and then drive the roughly three hours to Twin Falls.
We opted for the latter of these two, using Virgin Atlantic miles on the nonstop, evening Delta flight from Orlando (MCO). After an overnight just north of Salt Lake City (and a delicious lunch at Sticky Bird), we had a leisurely drive to Idaho.
When I told coworkers or friends that we were going to Idaho for vacation, there was a nearly universal response: “Why?” And yes, at least part of our decision to visit Twin Falls was based on the fact that Idaho represented a new state for both my wife and daughter — the latter of whom has now visited 28 states in her six-and-a-half years.
But after the trip, I will unequivocally say that everyone should plan a trip to Twin Falls.
With a combination of beautiful scenery, awesome outdoor activities and terrific food — all in an affordable, easy-to-reach destination — this small city in southern Idaho has a lot going for it.
All photos by the author.
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